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by Bart Everson

What is the connection between gambling, cocaine, and your classroom?

No, wait, I'm serious!

The answer is a little thing called dopamine, and it's released in the brain when we are rewarded.


Dopamine accounts in part for the thrill of gambling, the euphoria of certain drugs, the rush of adventure, and even — yes, it's true — the pleasure of learning something new in a college course.

It has to do with memory. Simply put, when dopamine is present, we remember; when it's not, we don't. We remember and return to the things that we find rewarding, the things we find pleasurable, the things that stimulate the release of dopamine.

So clearly, we want our students to have massive amounts of dopamine coursing through their brains as they participate in the classes we teach. How can we do this? By making the class fun, by presenting the content in an interesting fashion, by making the whole experience new and interesting and exciting.

Many of the best teachers already do this, of course. It's sheer instinct. If you are reading this post, there's a very high probability that you are already devoting effort in that direction.

Dr. Martha Burns uses the mnemonic NEAR as a key to successful teaching. NEAR stands for "New, Exciting And Rewarding." These are the keys to keeping dopamine levels high, which correlates with better memory and increased retention.

And, let's face it, learning is probably better for our overall well-being than gambling or illicit drugs.

You can read more from Dr. Burns in the article, "Dopamine and Learning: What the Brain’s Reward Center Can Teach Educators." Photo credit: Work found at Dopamine / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

the class

Who'd've thought? Teachers have long known that reflection can help students, but now there's scientific evidence to back that up.

Learning is more effective if a lesson or experience is deliberately coupled with time spent thinking about what was just presented, a new study shows. In “Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance,” a team of researchers from HEC Paris, Harvard Business School, and the University of North Carolina describe what they call the first empirical test of the effect of reflection on learning. By “reflection,” they mean taking time after a lesson to synthesize, abstract, or articulate the important points.

Read the whole article from The Atlantic: You Really Can 'Work Smarter, Not Harder'. Or, if you prefer your science "straight up" head over to the Social Science Research Network for the paper: Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance.

If you're in a hurry, here's the ultimate takehome point for teachers: build a little time for reflection into your lesson plans. If you're already doing this, consider yourself vindicated.

Photo: the class by hitzi1000

Course delivery is vulnerable to unplanned events. Potential interruptions to class activities include but are not limited to natural disasters, widespread illness, acts of violence, planned or unexpected construction-related closures, severe weather conditions, and medical emergencies. Whatever the event, an instructional continuity plan will help you to be ready to continue teaching with minimal interruption.

For those who missed last week's presentation and for those who want to learn more about instructional continuity you will find a link to the PowerPoint presentation above. Also, please visit our Instructional Continuity web page, where you will find planning guides, resources, and a recording of the workshop presentation.


Microlecturing is a short (1-3 minutes long) multi-media presentation used to engage learners. Jana Jab, co-founder of Edynco, has a concise but detailed article discussing when one would want to use microlectures and how to create them.

What can microlectures do?

  • provide a brief overview of a topic using key concepts
  • provide step-by-step instructions (i.e. how to solve a problem)
  • provide a personal introduction to a topic to engage your learners
  • provide a breakdown of a larger lecture into smaller more manageable pieces for your learners

How can one create a microlecture

Of course, you can always come to CAT and use our Camtasia studio and receive expert support from Bart Everson--Happy Microlecturing!

Spritz, a Boston-based tech company, is releasing to the general public a new app that allows you to speed read in a different way from other similar products that are currently available.

After a few years of research and development, they are ready to launch a wearable technology product for Samsung. This reader lines up the words to our actual way of reading (slightly left of center of each word) so that one's head isn't constantly moving as we read across and down a page.

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I tried samples of three different speeds provided and found it difficult to concentrate. My mind wanted to wander--make associations with other texts, search memories. While I think this app could be extremely useful for technical reading, I'm not sure I would like to use it for literature or even non-literary fiction. Part of the "fun" of reading is savoring well-written prose or conjuring up delightful images of the characters and places described. At up to 1000 words a minute, there's no time for that!

Want to experience what it would feel like to "spritz"? Elite Daily offers samples as well as additional information. If you have a need for speed and are looking for time-saving measures, this might be the app for you! And if you decide to try it, please let us know what you think.

According to the website, MERLOT, Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, " is a free and open peer reviewed collection of online teaching and learning materials and faculty-developed services contributed and used by an international education community. "

A program of the California State University System, MERLOT is a great starting point for those interested in technology-infused classrooms as well as hybrid and online courses. It's also free and open--no corkscrew required.

One of a multitude of resources is a scholarly publication, JOLT, The Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. JOLT has a wonderful index so that you can easily search for specific topics (and you're highly likely to find them).

As one would expect, MERLOT is everywhere social media is as well. They've even developed a presentation on how to use the social networking features of MERLOT:

So when you have a few moments to unwind in the evening, get on your laptop and pour yourself a glass of, well you know, and be prepared to enjoy--Salut!

Teaching online has several positive aspects. Here are a few taken from the Teaching and Learning Online:  Communication, Community and Assessment, a handbook for UMass faculty published by the University of Massachusetts:

Teaching online courses can

  • Offer the opportunity to think about teaching in new ways:  Online teaching can allow you to experiment with techniques only available in online environments, such as threaded discussions and webliographies
  • Provide ideas and techniques to implement in traditional courses:  Online email discussions, a frequently-used practice in online learning, can be incorporated into traditional courses to facilitate group work.  Other techniques, such as web-based course calendars and sample papers posted on the internet (with student permission) can easily be incorporated into a traditional course.
  • Expand the reach of the curriculum:  Online teaching can expand existing curriculum to students on a regional, national, and international level.
  • Professional satisfaction:  Teaching online can be a enormously rewarding experience for teachers.  Teachers often cite the diversity of students in online courses as one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching online.
  • Instructor convenience:  Teaching online can offer teachers conveniences not available in traditional classroom settings; for example, at-home office hours and flexible work schedules.

I would like to add to the above advantages that teaching online can provide research and collaboration opportunities.  In addition, the online faculty at Xavier is a very collegiate and congenial group and working with them is another source of satisfaction!

It's interesting to read more of the University of Massachusetts' Teaching and Learning Online Handbook.

A student solves a mathematics equation at the Mfantsipim Boys School in Cape Coast

More and more professors are using midterm student evaluations, experts say, and more and more colleges are strongly urging their faculty to collect student feedback midway through their courses. (Medina, 2011, Chronicle of Higher Education).

Can you believe midterms are upon us? It's that time of the fall semester that brings tons of grading, Halloween decorations, and of course, midcourse reviews. Midcourse reviews provide feedback that can potentially assist you in fine-tuning your course while it is still underway.  Sometimes called a formative evaluation, the midcourse review is an optional and informal supplement to the end-of-semester summative evaluations.  Interest in these reviews is driven by a desire to see what’s working well in your class and what could be improved to aid student learning.  The advantage of doing these at mid-term is that you are able to make adjustments to your course this semester.

In a midcourse review, a facilitator will ask your students in groups to discuss three questions:

  1. What is working well in the class (i.e., what is helping you learn)?
  2. What is not working well (i.e., what is hindering your learning)?
  3. What suggestions do you have for improvement?

By the end of the 20 minutes, we will have a composite list of student reactions to these issues.  Then, at a mutually convenient time, the facilitator meets with you to confidentially discuss what the students said.  In general you will get an accurate “barometer reading” on how the class is going.

Still on the fence?  Check out this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

If you are interested in scheduling a midcourse review, get in touch now.

Photo Credit: World Bank Photo Collection via Compfight cc


The more diversity we find in all facets of our society, the better off we are as a society. This diversity would not be fully realized without those with disabilities. Consequently, making accommodations for students with disabilities is not just a legal obligation; it is also a social and moral one. Citizens with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in many areas of the American workplace, including positions in the STEM fields. One way that we, as educators, can help to improve the number of people with disabilities in fields where they have been traditionally underrepresented is by supporting them in their pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Taking steps to make our course content accessible will give all students an equal opportunity to benefit from the pedagogical styles and techniques used in physical and virtual classrooms all over the country.

Disability and Accessibility provides some useful information about students and disabilities, along with some practical approaches to teaching students with learning disabilities. The information focuses on learning disabilities, but the resources provide information about a variety of disabilities. As you review the information in Disability and Accessibility, keep in mind the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. UDL helps us focus on students' abilities rather than their disabilities. Curricular and pedagogical changes can then be made that benefit all students by providing all with an equal opportunity to learn.


As the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, I get asked about cheating a lot. Instead of focusing on student characteristics related to cheating, I typically encourage faculty (including myself) to look for ways to discourage academic dishonesty through the learning environments we establish.

Dr. James Lang, who writes a regular column for the Chronicle of Higher Education, did a thought-provoking three part series on this topic. In Part 2 he focuses on how our assessments can encourage or discourage cheating. He writes:

Why should I bother to redesign my courses to include more frequent, low-stakes assessments, which will require more time and effort on my part, just to reduce the already small numbers of students who may be cheating in my courses? The short answer: You shouldn't redesign your courses just to reduce cheating. You should redesign them in order to increase learning.

Want to know more? Read his post on Cheating Lessons, Part 2.  If you are dealing with this issues, I  encourage you to check out Part 1 and Part 3 as well.

Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Compfight cc